What’s in a Name? Authors’ Names between Languages and Scripts – Translate Midwest

What’s in a Name? Authors’ Names between Languages and Scripts

“What’s in a name?” William Shakespeare’s Juliet asks, lamenting her family’s objection to her relationship with Romeo, the son of a rival family, just because of his last name. But Juliet herself is known by many different names, depending on the place where her story is told, and the language used there.

The story in William Shakespeare’s play appeared in earlier versions, such as a 1496 novel by Masuccio Salernitano, where the female protagonist was named Gianozza. She later appeared as Giulietta, and today appears as Julia (German, Turkish), Julieta (Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and others), Juliette (French), Джульетта (Julietta, Russian), יוליה (Yulia, Hebrew), יוליא (Yulia, Yiddish), Julie (Danish), with more variations in other languages and writing systems. 

We often think of our names as singular and idiosyncratic. We use the names of authors and characters to search for information with this singularity in mind. But what happens to names when they move across languages? How many different ways can there be to spell a name? If names themselves can take on so many different forms depending on the language and writing system they are used in, how can we aptly search and find materials based on authors’ names? 

This challenge will face anyone who is interested in the Indian author known in English as Rabindranath Tagore, as illustrated in the following image, taken from the Library of Congress Name Authority File. This file compiles all accepted spellings of the author’s name in various languages and scripts. Remarkably, the options covered here offer variations of the spelling of this name only in alphabetic scripts, and not in logographic writing systems such as Chinese and Japanese, nor in languages that use Abudiga writing systems, such as Hindi or Bengali, some of the most widely adopted writing systems in the world. 

So, what is in a name?

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